Source: CBC News: RCMP, Border Agents Can Use Torture-Tainted Information
Astute watchers of this government will tell you that this is hardly news; such a missive went out a year, if not a few years, ago by order of Vic Toews. The fundamental question is whether or not Canada should be relying on information that was obtained through torture, or information that MIGHT have been obtained through torture.
In the past, I've extolled John Stuart Mill's harm principle on this blog. For those of you who need a refresher, it basically sums up as 'what ever harms the least people is the ethical thing to do; or if not ethical, at least the right course of action.' As such, some of you might find it hypocritical of me to sit here today and type out a blog post condemning torture.
Well, I even though it is more philosophy than politics, I will explain to you why this course of action violates the harm principle. If we're looking at just sheer numbers, this missive violates the harm principle because of the harm it does to Canadian national identity and pride. Canada has always been seen as the 'good guy' in international affairs; we don't rock the boat, and we're often the first out of the gate to provide help to those in need.
As such, when it comes out that our government is allowing information that was tortured out of someone, it contrasts with the national identity that many Canadians have come to form over the years. This pure moment of cognitive dissonance surely has to have some last harm to Canadians who have to mull it over, and that number will be in the millions.
With that in mind, and still adhering to the harm principle, I think it is safe to say that the emotional and psychological damage inflicted on Canadians who have seen their national identity shattered on the international stage is the greater harm from this scenario; and as such, I can comfortably sit here and condemn torture while sticking to my belief in the harm principle.
Now, we've talked torture before on this blog; after all, as I mentioned, this isn't the first time the use of torture-tainted information has been brought up by Minister Toews.
But, let's re-examine some of the old arguments from back then.
First and foremost, information obtained under duress and torture is often unreliable if not completely fabricated. There have been studies done on torture, and almost all of them will point to the fact that information gleaned from torture is unreliable.
Let's go back to the most famous of torture scenarios: The Spanish Inquisition. For those of you who need another refresher, the Spanish Inquisition was period of time when the Kingdom of Spain (with the blessing of the Pope and the Church), actively rounded up converted Jews and 'questioned' them regarding their adherence to their new faith.
In many, if not all cases, torture was used to force a confession from the accused. Devices such as the rack, thumb screws, and numerous other weapons of horror were used against these people to force them to confess. Let's face it, there's few of us out there who would even look at such devices and not immediately tell the person in the room that we were guilty of whatever they were accusing of us.
The same can be said for the Salem Witch Trials; if you want something with a North American spin on it. People were accused and often tortured or subjected to tests that a human being could not survive; such as dipping a chair into a lake and making sure the witch didn't 'float', while a good woman would drown. Not only did people confess to crimes they were accused of, but much with the Inquisition and McCarthy's Red Scare of the 50s, they accused others. Others who would then be subjected to the same horrors the first person had been.
And let's look at more modern practices; Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is often pointed to as a major grab in the American War on Terror. And the Americans have held Mohammed at Guantanamo Bay for a very long time, along with other 'non-combatants'. Furthermore, we know that they have been subjected to various torture techniques: ranging from sleep deprivation to water boarding.
When it comes to Mohammed, his confessions were released publicly for a variety of reasons. But the confession led to some speculation that Mohammed had exaggerated his confession and overplayed his role in certain events that he took credit for. Not to mention the fact that he was basically tied to, and confessed, for every major terrorist attack of the last 20 years.
Needless to say, people are rightly assuming that his confession comes after these forms of torture and it is his way of getting them to stop.
That is always the problem with torture: The person on the receiving end will eventually tell everyone what they want to hear.
Time to show some geek cred, as it serves as a good example; In an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Captain Picard is captured on an away mission and held captive by the Cardassians for a period of a few months. During which time he is tortured, physically and mentally, by a captor who insists that the four lights in the room are actually five lights.
Of course, the episode ends with Picard being rescued before he breaks, but in the end he admits there was a moment when he truly believed that there were five lights and was ready to say so.
I mention this because it is a good example of what happens when you torture someone; eventually, not only will they lie and tell you what you want to hear to stop the torture, but they may even start to believe what you're telling them.
And it is for that very reason alone that information gleaned from torture does not serve a purpose; it is unreliable, highly doubtful, and likely pure fantasy. And now the fact that our government is authorizing the people who are supposed to be protecting us to use this misguided information, is tantamount to the government authorizing the use of chicken entrails and tarot cards.
Torture will always produce the results that the torturer wants to hear, regardless of whether or not it is the truth. And because of this, using information based on torture actually makes our country LESS safe than more.
There are people who say that this will save lives; and it's possible that one out of ten torture gleaned information packages will pay off. But the cost of using that information is our national identity, if not our very soul; and that is too high a price to pay.